I finished draft one of book two this weekend. 84,866 words. 85,000 is an average mystery. I’m either learning and pacing myself, or I got really lucky – probably a combination. The feeling is euphoric. I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted. I realize what a ridiculous thing that is for me to say; with such horrible problems facing the world, I have the audacity to feel unburdened about solving a fake murder of my own making? So, I acknowledge what a small unburdening this is in the grand scheme of things, but still, I can’t help feeling good. Until the final pages were mapped, and the murder solved, I didn’t really know if I could pull it off. It’s always the same. But, with the first draft complete, I’ve done it. It may not be good, but I know it’s fixable. My brother, a first-rate carpenter, can look at any situation, and with enough planning and nails, and a few tools from his workshop, he can fix anything. I’m starting to understand that. I hope the lesson gets easier with time, before panic sets in. The draft is always fixable.
It’s been a year, almost exactly, from the date I received the phone call from St. Martins about the publication of The Territory. I know this because my mom called to remind me that my daughters’ soccer game with Centerville was coming up. She asked if I remembered the significance, and being a dolt, I did not. It was at the Centerville soccer game last year that I told my parents I would be published. This is significant for a number of reasons. Namely, that my parents sat through some horrible first drafts when I first started writing, and they always bore the drafts with nods of appreciation and encouragement. If you ever wonder at the wisdom of providing your kids lots of encouragement, I am walking proof that it works. We get knocked down enough in life. At least our parents can build us up a bit, make us feel like there’s a little hope. It certainly kept me going!
At the end of a major milestone, writing or otherwise, I think it’s good to figure out the lessons learned. If I haven’t learned anything, what’s the point? Besides an in-depth understanding of uranium and the atom bomb (which made for fascinating research) I’ll stick with the ‘fixable’ theme as my greatest lesson learned with this book.
In a recent Amazon.com review that I read about Philip Roth’s book, Indignation, the critic wrote, “Roth seems able to spin infinite surprising tales from a few familiar building blocks.” Isn’t that the writer’s goal? To take the seemingly familiar and to serve it up in some fresh new way, current and spicy, in a way that no other author has achieved? That’s success! If Philip Roth can take the mundane and make it amazing, I can at least improve upon my own efforts. With enough practice? And revision? I can take my draft and work it over until it shines.
Hemingway said it best, “First drafts are shit.” Now it’s time to start cleaning up the mess.